The museum is temporarily closed. Learn more.
Hank and Samm
54, Minneapolis, MN, 2016
American, born 1986
Hank, 76, and Samm, 67, Little Rock, AR, 2015
Promised gift L2019.158.6
Listen to the Artist Speak About the Work
Hank: But they didn’t call me “he” or “him,” they just called me Hank.
Samm: They knew that Hank was different from her sisters and Hank’s dad was excited, I guess, about having this “boy,” and Hank’s mom didn’t object. Her father would put her in boxing matches with older boys and he was really proud. Once in a while some relatives would show up and say to her dad, “Hey, you are going to make that girl funny.” And Dick would tell them to mind their own business and leave Hank alone. And that was simply it.
Hank: It was a lot like in the olden days, you know, there were a lot of people around like me and people just expected us to become “unmarried aunts” or “fancy boys” and nobody ever confronted you with it. My father would say things like, “Oh, this one will never get married.” If I heard him say that today I would say, “Oh, he’s telling them I am gay.” Only I didn’t have those words for it back then.
But when I was twelve, my parents decided that it was time for me to be a girl. This was a very strenuous thing for me because, of course, I didn’t want to be a girl. They started trying to work me into being a girl but by then my identity was already set. I was totally me. I always say, “I’m just Hank. I’m not he, I’m not she, I’m just Hank. I’m who I’ve always been.” But my father and mother decided that for my birthday they should give me some girl perfume. Perfume wasn’t something that I was familiar with. Of course, my sisters had perfume but that was for girls! And so, I was broken hearted. I mean, they could have cut me with a knife and hurt me less than saying, “Okay, now you are going to be like a girl.” Later on, when I was twenty-one, I went into the military, which took me away from them and everybody.
Samm: But there were points in the military that were very difficult. She ended up being investigated for homosexuality and examined psychiatrically, and the army ended up putting it in writing that “while she had a pretty face, she was very masculine.”
Hank: I loved the military, but I thought there was no future there for me because of the stress of the investigation. I finally went to my superior and said, “Either you are going to stop the investigation on me or you are going to charge me on something, because I can’t go on like this.” It was a very traumatic experience for me.
Samm: Eventually they brought it to conclusion and they added up all of their evidence to find that they didn’t have a thing on her.
Hank and I have been together forty-four years. We met after her time in the military, through some Chicago lesbians I had met. They threw a party every Friday night and one of those nights someone said, “There are some really fine dykes up in Western Michigan.” And then somebody said, “Road trip!” And thirty hours later, there we were in Kalamazoo. And so I found this one in Western Michigan. She was different from anybody I have ever met in my whole life and I knew that she would be in my life for the rest of my life. There was this immediate connection that would always be there. The way we are today, we started out that way.